Every child needs parents who follow through with consequences for kids. Here’s why you should follow through with what you say (and tips on how to do so).
“If you don’t pick these toys up, they’re going in the bag for storage,” my husband told our son, bag in hand. As you might expect from a child testing his boundaries, our son still refused to clean up.
On cue, my husband started stuffing the toys into the bag, despite my son’s protests and change of heart. No one wants to see his child cry, but following through was more important than avoiding a tantrum.
Still… that doesn’t make enforcing the rules any easier. We don’t like seeing our kids upset. Following through with consequences can feel really, really draining. And it’s easier to cave in and let the deed slip this one time (especially when our kids seem remorseful).
Such was the case with SSBE reader Kim:
I’m really struggling to follow through on consequences with my son lately. He’s pushing limits all day, but when I see the disappointment and remorse on his face, I give him another chance, even though I know it’s not wise. Please, fellow parents, do you have any words of wisdom to encourage me to be strong?
Why you should follow through with consequences for kids
Many of us have shared the same sentiments. Even though I knew that following through is important, I wanted to learn why.
Your child will take you seriously
Kids will call our bluff if we don’t enforce the rules consistently and regularly. Any “punishment” doled out is an empty threat, just another phrase mom or dad say that won’t bear any action.
No one wants to leave a family gathering because of our child’s wild antics. Cutting reading time short when kids misbehave isn’t pleasant. But following through with what you say will get the message across that you mean your word.
Following through with consequences reinforces the trust kids place on us. While we may not win short-term favor, in the long run, we’re gaining our kids’ trust.
Kids will learn right from wrong
We’re our kids’ primary teachers. The people from whom they learn right from wrong as well as their values. By following through with consequences, they know which behavior is acceptable.
As a parent, you’re teaching your child the natural and logical consequences of her behavior. If you don’t enforce consequences, she learns that her behaviors have no limits, falsely assuming the world bends to her whims.
Besides, your child won’t thrive in total freedom. She also hasn’t reached an age to make mature decisions on her own. She needs you to teach her right from wrong with her best intentions in mind.
Kids are held accountable
No finger-pointing here. When kids get consequences, they learn that they’re accountable for their decisions. The consequences tie with their choices: They didn’t pick up the toys means they don’t get to play with them. We enforce, but their actions determine the outcome.
By following through with consequences, kids will think through and deliberate their choices and are less likely to make impulsive decisions.
Following through shows we care
Ironically, setting limits and following through reassures our kids that we care. Despite their protests, kids want boundaries. They want someone who cares enough to go through the hassles of enforcing consequences.
A child whose parents don’t put in the time and effort to follow through will feel forgotten. Yes, in the moment, she might feel angry and resentful, but in the bigger picture, she’d rather you have her best interests in mind than simply let her get away with everything.
How to follow through with consequences
Kim may have known in her head that following through is the right thing to do. But like many parents, we could use some advice on just how to go about doing so.
Consider the following ways you can effectively follow through with consequences.
Use natural consequences
You might have heard the term “natural consequences” when learning about holding your ground. Let’s talk about what it is and why it’s the most effective kind of consequence you want to use.
Natural consequences are the direct results of your child’s choices and behavior.
Let’s say your child refuses to clean up his toys. It’s tempting to confiscate a favorite item or privilege such as not being able to watch television. But watching television and refusing to clean his toys don’t tie well together. This can confuse a child and directs his anger toward you, the parent.
But a natural consequence lets him experience the difficulty of finding his favorite toy as a result of not cleaning it up. He may not experience this until a few hours or even a day after not cleaning up his toys, but he can tie in how his choices led to his inability to find his favorite toy. Not cleaning up means it’s harder to find his toys.
Natural consequences are the way the real world operate:
“The real world operates on consequences. If we do a consistently lousy job at work, our boss doesn’t take away our VCR—he fires us.” – Parenting with Love & Logic (affiliate link)
Be calm and follow through without anger or lecturing.
The not-calm way to do it: “You’re not getting a cupcake after lunch if you don’t keep your voice down!” I yelled at my son in the car. My excuses: his brothers were sleeping, we were in traffic, and we were hungry.
Still. The better way? State the consequences as a matter-of-fact (and follow through just as calmly).
My son was playing with a heavy plastic toy near his baby brothers, hovering it above their heads. “Play with that elephant but keep it away from your brothers and not hold it above them. It could fall and hurt them,” I said. “If you hold it above them, I’ll have to put it away until tomorrow morning.”
Of course he tested my word and hovered the elephant over their heads. So I placed the elephant in my closet, all without anger or lecturing.
I took my emotions out of the equation and emphasized that the consequences were a result of his actions. I wasn’t being the “mean mommy” acting out of a foul mood as I had done when I was angry in the car. I was applying the consequences of his misbehavior.
The best part? His reaction was by far one of the calmest I had ever seen. No uproar, resentment or further stubbornness followed.
Don’t offer consequences that are difficult to follow through.
If you’re not cancelling the trip to Disneyland, don’t say you’re not going if he doesn’t get dressed. Farfetched consequences may work a few times because your child believes you, but not only are these consequences lies, she’ll catch on and will likely not believe you the next time.
Stick to feasible consequences. Maybe you won’t play in the morning considering how much time he had taken putting on his clothes.
And use consequences appropriate for your child’s age and stage, too. Don’t expect your child to vacuum the mess she made on the carpet if she doesn’t know how to or is too small to do so. Stick to consequences that are within her abilities.
Like most things with parenting, consistency is key. Yes, it’s healthy to pick your battles, but following through with consequences helps kids understand their boundaries. Regularly following through with consequences helps your child understand the family boundaries.
We’re all human and can’t be on our A-game 100% of the time. But the more consistent you are—however difficult those first few times—the better discipline gets. Your child will start to pay
attention. She’ll remember that you stick to your word. She’ll be less likely to misbehave because she knows what happens when she does.
My biggest lesson about following through is the difference a parent’s tone of voice can make. I tended to use an angry, disciplinary voice that tried to appear authoritative. Then I realize how much more effective I can be when I’m calm and matter-of-fact.
When done with respect, following through with consequences isn’t only about setting “punishments.” It teaches our values and provides boundaries from within our kids can learn to grow.
Even if it means tossing a few toys in a garbage bag.
Get more tips on how to follow through with consequences:
- How to Stop Nagging Your Child to Get Stuff Done
- Help Your Child WANT to Behave
- How to Stop Kids from Talking Back to You
- How to Avoid Saying Yet Another Empty Threat
- What to Do when You Tell Your Kids No Too Often
Do you struggle with following through with consequences? What are your tips on how to follow through with what you say?
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